Mindfulness digest Vol 16 : Creative process 🌟

Short Summary of the learning

Mindful Creative Process

All of us create. Perhaps a beautiful piece of art, a mesmerising musical composition, a deep and meaningful prose of writing, or a really creative presentation at work. Most famous creatives are very mindful about their creative processes. For instance, Oscar winning music director A.R. Rahman derives his inspiration from connection with infinity. If you have heard his music, the connection can be experienced. I find that fascinating…

My creative process is completely organic. The more I have created, the more I have learnt patterns and built some heuristics that I would like to share with you.

Mental model – How to think about creative processes?

Creative processes can be divided into two parts. Inspiration and synthesis. Inspiration is random. This has profound implications. You cannot sit in one place and wait for inspiration. Moreover, you cannot schedule creativity. You do however need a mechanism, to capture inspiration when it occurs. Once captured, you also need to be able to make sense of it.

For instance, when I was reading about BTS last week, I learnt about how their music has a much deeper connection with the world. I wrote down a thought to study BTS’ creative process. A few steps later, this piece of writing was born.

Understanding & using triggers for a creative process

I have a 4 year old. Therefore cleaning-up is a constant truth in our lives. This is a very conducive activity for inspiration. I have observed that other menial tasks such as taking a shower, brisk walks really help. After a hard days of work, if I am reading a book, I also pause and spend some time reflecting, sometimes reminiscing.

The triggers for you might be different, but I suspect you know what I am talking about. It is good to be mindful about these triggers. For instance, when my mind is restless about a topic, I often resort to a menial task.

Tools I use to log and synthesize

When inspiration occurs, you need to be able to log it somewhere. A cloud based note taking system such as Evernote, Notion are perfect for this. I use Notion as it provides very useful features for managing my creative processes. Notion provides a hierarchical system in which you can organise your notes, any links you found on the internet while researching. You can even embed YouTube videos, Tweets and much more.

Twitter is a goldmine of inspiration. I use Twitter for discovering inspiration as well as testing it in public. Testing here refers to engagement, you can understand if a topic will resonate with your audience. This is not always necessary though. I create for myself, engagement is a second order goal to ensure I can reach as many people as possible.

Inspiration is not always original, in fact, many successful non-fiction authors borrow ideas and package it in incredible ways. For instance, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the bestsellers. This book has a collection of non original but brilliantly illustrated ideas and processes.

Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Ability to work between devices is extremely powerful with Notion. I make full use of this. For instance, I synthesize for about 40 minutes at my desk, might feel bored and I take a break. I then come back to it on my phone when I wake up, with a cup of coffee in my hand.

Canva is another great tool if you wish to graphically illustrate something. It can give you the right image  sizes for various social portals, it also has a variety of templates. For instance, with Canva, I created Mindfulness Shorts. They are designed for Twitter. It has a headline message and when you click on it, it expands into some detail. While I am not an artist, I love to illustrate with hand, there is something magical about it.


Once you get habituated to logging all of your inspiration, the next step is to synthesize. Synthesis here refers to converting incoherent and disparate pieces of information into a coherent whole. This is a synchronous process. In other words, you do it sitting down in one place, with as fewer breaks as possible. This also has profound implications. For instance, I usually synthesize when I have blocks of 2 hours or more. Ideally late evenings or weekends work best. When I am synthesizing, I do not have to worry so much about being creative.

Synthesis is about connecting the dots and refining your creation until you are happy with it. For instance, imagine that I have a notion page with 11 logged thoughts about Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. My intention is to create an article summarising the key takeaways from this book. I first elaborate every one of 11 thoughts. Then, I find that some thoughts are not relevant and I delete them. Moreover, I discover that thoughts 3 & 7 are linked with each other, and I merge them. I might create a structure where 5, and 6 are part of 4 in which case, I will nest them within point 4. Very quickly, structure emerges and you keep tweaking it until you have got it right.

It is important to spend a lot of time, and proof read your article, script, or presentation. You will discover ways to make it better, if you have a second pair of eyes that you trust, that is even better!


All of us have different sources of inspiration, and our creative processes differ, but mindful consideration of this can give us an edge.


9 tips to radically improve your mental diet

No sugar in my coffee, please. Unfortunately, the healthy act is also coupled with an endless and mindless scroll on a social app. You are still going to be healthy, right?

It depends on your mental diet.

You body is only as good as the food you eat and your mind is only as good as the information you consume…

Our mental diet affects us. When you wake up, the trajectory of your day depends on what information you consume first. For instance, a bad email from someone might ruin your morning. You might fumble and try to respond while you are at the breakfast table. Moreover, you may not consume your food mindfully, affecting it’s nutritional value. You probably overate or didn’t eat enough. This affects your energy levels through the day. Helping your decline towards poor mental health.

Mental diet is about mindful consumption over information overload. It is about mindful connections over loneliness. Mental diet is a peaceful walk on a sunny beach over a noisy stroll in South Mumbai. As a species we have practiced a decent mental diet for millions of years. Without this, we wouldn’t have been the dominant species on the planet. Technology however, has made it harder to maintain a healthy mental diet.

I’d like to share some hacks I have found extremely useful.

1. Use Twitter to improve signal.

I call Twitter the intellectual network. In my view, it is by far the most underrated social network out there. You can find incredibly talented people who regularly publish niche content. It’s world-class training for your mind, delivered free. While I have been on Twitter since 2009, only in 2019 I began to realise it’s immense benefits.

For instance, it’s possible to tune Twitter into a productive tool for your personal growth. It has unlimited potential. For instance, when I read Atomic Habits, I followed James Clear on Twitter. James regularly engages with other Twitter users. I could then figure out who else to follow. David Perell for instance, is one of the best follows on writing. All of these “individual brands” generate highly curated information. They also publish newsletters. There is absolutely disproportionate value in following them.

For other follow recommendations, let’s connect on Twitter.

2. Entertain some distractions and unproductive moments

Most of us are stuck in a hustle. We have jobs, children, parents to look after. We often are so committed that we don’t realise we are being harsh on ourselves.

It’s okay to be a bit slack sometimes, it’s alright to go on a video game spree or a running about match with your kid. These small bouts of unproductive moments are when our mind gets a break. I find that these moments relax my mind like no other. Embrace these.

3. How about some mindful procrastination?

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Parkinson’s law depicts the predicament that all of experience on a daily basis.

For instance, as the year or week begins, our diaries become overwhelmed. There is an increasing number of things screaming for our attention. The house requires maintenance, you forgot to call your colleague who wanted to speak 2 weeks ago. Your kid needs to see the dentist, oh and you have been putting off your own appointment for almost 5 weeks… Your financial advisor is waiting on you, and that power yoga has been waiting on the bookshelf.

We procrastinate. The power yoga, dentist appointment, and house maintenance have all been postponed for a while. You feel terrible about doing it, but you simply don’t have the time.

The trick is to be mindful about procrastination. If you consciously delay something that is less important, you won’t have to unconsciously delay something that is important.

This forces value based prioritisation over time. For instance, if you mindfully put off speaking to the financial advisor for a few weeks and even after few weeks if you think it’s not of huge value, perhaps you need a new strategy on your finances or simply a new advisor!

4. Extent of communication ease is inversely proportional to the value it brings

Our need for human contact and socialising is millions of years old. We simply cannot replace it with cameras and screens. We now communicate with texting by default. While texting is more convenient, it is less intimate than a phone call. While phone call is convenient, it is less intimate than a visit in person. A good mental diet includes ample of meaningful social contact. I’ll leave the mix to you.

I am not saying texting is not useful, I am saying don’t let it replace meaningful social contact.

5. Menial tasks are the equivalent of vacation for your mind

Most deep thinkers and writers I have researched create an atmosphere conducive to creativity… This differs for everyone but some prefer going on long walks whereas others prefer listening to loud music. I find it immensely helpful to think while I am performing menial tasks such as folding laundry or loading the dishwasher.

When your body is extremely busy, your mind wanders into beautiful places ✨

Some call it the “flow-state”. I have observed that this is an essential condition for creative thinking, its sort of like a vacation for your mind.

6. Learning a new language literally rewires your brain more efficiently

There is evidence that multi-lingual brains have a higher density of neurons and they also see higher brain activity levels. This leads to better cognitive ability, staves off dementia, makes you better at task switching, rational decisions, communications, and much more!

Moreover, there are emotions that cannot be expressed in some languages. Learning a new language not only primes your brain, it opens you up to experiencing these new range of emotions, customs, traditions!

7. Don’t take anything personally. Literally, not even yourself.

We make the mistake of taking ourselves too seriously. We take our success too seriously and aim higher, well, sometimes too high. Unrealistic expectations are not great for your mind. Similarly if we experience failure, we tend to put unnecessary blame on ourselves..

It is generally said that in your 30’s you stop caring about what others think. It’s one of life’s most important mental models. The more you think about what others think, the less you will be yourself. The less authentic you are the more people will despise you. It’s a vicious cycle. Most successful people I know can literally dodge bullets of judgment and negativity.

8. Claim back your attention, and focus on your well being

Less said the better, spend time away from devices, control notifications the number one mental diet culprits (akin to sugar perhaps).

This is really important for your mental diet.

9. Don’t just consume but reflect

Books force you to think slowly and they force you to imagine. Videos are different though, it’s tough to be mindful while watching a video or listening to an audiobook it’s even harder to be mindful on most social newsfeeds.

I think consumption should be followed by reflection. Reflection can be simply taking notes while watching a video or listening to an audiobook. It can be writing a summary of a book you have just read, in general writing is immensely helpful for reflection. Speaking to someone on a topic or better teaching someone is also incredibly helpful.

It’s worth mentioning that sleep and physical exercise are primary pillars of good mental health, diet comes next.

This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch. Any hacks you’d like to share?


Mindfulness Digest Vol 15: Entropy🌡️

Mindfulness learning : Entropy & organisational leadership

Coffee and tea rounds are aplenty in our house! Trips to the microwave to reheat them are a plenty too 😁. I blame the entropy!

Seriously though, entropy is all around us. It’s not just applicable to thermodynamics. For instance, rooms become dusty when they are not maintained, furniture creaks after extended use, coffees become cold after a while, relationships grow apart over time, and our health slowly descends as the years pass..

In other words, all systems will descend into more and more disorder and eventually collapse until an external force maintains them at equilibrium.

In nature, chaos is regular and order is irregular.

Organisations, teams, projects are especially subject to entropy. They are complex systems within their own right.

People might grow complascent in their roles, worse they might become apathetic and bored. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when you have enough of such people, disorder will follow. It will keep growing till it’s natural endpoint of people leaving or worse the organisation going bankrupt. There are many possible interventions. We must provide regular training to people. We must keep them busy with a challenging purpose. It is also helpful to introduce a bit of chaos into their routines, perhaps try out a new kind of task, give a very different challenge that is focused on a different competency.

On projects, entropy comes down to actively managing structure, bureaucracy, risks, complexity and much more. At many organisations, bureaucracy reigns supreme. You might feel like your main job is to bend rules to get anything accomplished. However, entropy teaches us that this is not an exception it is a norm.

In either case, leadership is of paramount importance, and while we have indeed embraced remote culture, we are at risk. Entropy is a force of nature and even the universe is not spared!

In physics, entropy is a law; in social systems, it’s a mere tendency — though a strong one, to be sure. – FS Blog

Key takeaway for me, is to keep this at the back of my mind while dealing with any complex system. Similar to 80-20 principle. A great mental model…💎

An Inspiration 💯 : DJ Patil

Born in India, raised in the United States, Dhanurjay Patil was christened DJ by his friends. Flunked many math classes, got kicked out, got suspended in his first year of high school and even got arrested.

Self studied to get over his weakness and turned it into his strength. Studied every math class at UC San Diego, and went to University of Maryland where he studied chaos theory with the person who coined the term! Has been in data science ever since.

Worked in Department of Defence and served on the Threat Anticipation Project. Worked with Greylock partners, served as the first ever US Chief data scientist during the Obama administration.

Famously kept the below card in his white House notebook! Awesome advice, don’t you think?

You are such an inspiration, sir!

Source: Twitter

Josh Waitzkin’s mental models 🏞️

Waitzkin is a Chess prodigy and a national champion, Tai chi 2x world champion, first of a kind black belt in Jiu Jitsu, currently mastering surfing 🌊.

George Mack has compiled a thread on this and I think it’s awesomeness.

  1. Depth over width – has an elaborate methodology for learning where he goes in depth until he understands an area for its first principles. E.g. chess and importance of center pieces.
  2. Locus of control – argues we internalize an external locus of control. For instance, we label weather as bad, and avoid doing certain things whereas it’s purely an interpretation that can be changed. You can still go out on a worst day and enjoy the storm in all its glory…
  3. Stress & Recovery – argues that intense work performance is possible when followed by intense relaxation. Most people are mediocre at both work performance and rest.
  4. Challenging the subconscious – while greatest minds cut through complexity easily they also get stuck for long on a few things. He argues we need to avoid this trap and sleep over it and let our subconscious deal with it.
  5. Deconstructing common root structures – as you spend more time going into depth of a field, your original assumptions might get challenged or even replaced with new ones. My interpretation of this was being very aware of something you didn’t know well and that you now know better; the ability to deconstruct deeply held beliefs and change them as needed.

Original thread click here


Mindfulness Digest Vol. 14 : Reactance & Storytelling 🐦

Mindfulness learning: Reactance & Freedom

If you don’t manage your energy levels, having time to spare is useless. If you don’t manage time, you can’t get any meaningful work done. Despite the gift of energy and ideas, often we don’t have the time.

Morgan Housel in his book, Psychology of Money talks of Reactance. “People like to feel they are in control – in the driver’s seat. When we try to get them to do something, they feel disempowered”. 

Doing something you love on a schedule you can’t control can feel like doing something you hate. Psychologists call it reactance.

Morgan Housel, Psychology of Money
Psychology of money
Psychology of money

Housel gives us an insight into how wealth can create the ability to do what we want, when we want and for as long as we want. This is the highest dividend wealth can pay. 

  1. Wealth can give us a strong sense of being in control of our life, this is a predictor of positive feelings of wellbeing
  2. People make money decisions based on prior experience and emotions, and not based on facts they studied – this is wrong.
  3. Don’t focus on individuals, everyone has a different path, focus on broad patterns instead. Luck and risk are powerful forces guiding your financial success.
  4. Do not have a relative mindset – do not compare your journey of wealth to the other guy, as this comparison never ends, instead focus on making small positive changes consistently. Warren Buffet started investing when he was 10, by 30 he had USD 9 million. However, most of his wealth came after he hit 50. 
  5. Never do something to impress others, people may like the swanky car that you just got, but they don’t like you because of it. Learn the difference. Housel calls this Man in the car paradox.
  6. Wealth has more to do with generating and saving than investing (counterintuitive) 
  7. Avoid planning extreme goals. Be flexible as life changes, you should change too. 

If you are experiencing reactance, reduce clutter and simplify your life. You should also change the way you look at creating wealth. You are creating freedom from reactance.

Read a great summary of this book here

Inspiration of the week: Tobi Lutke 🛒

Born, Germany, 1981. Learnt to code at 12, dropped out of school at 16 and took up computer programming apprenticeship. 2002 moved to Canada. At age 23, launched an eCommerce startup called Snowdevil to sell snowboards online. This turned into Shopify! Net worth USD 9.6 Bn. This is not all, Tobi consistently applies mental models and is very vocal about them. For instance, Tobi and team decided against using “Powered by Shopify” on the storefronts even though it may have created a growth loop VC’s would have loved. He suggested that Shopify would like to see Merchants become successful, in the long run this is what would matter the most. Turns out, the long term value mental model was immensely successful. Merchants sold 5.1 Billion USD on Shopify on Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) Weekend.

Tobi Lutke – CEO, Shopify (Image Courtesy, Wikipedia)

My wife runs a business on Shopify and I know that nothing else even comes close. Tobi… What an inspiration! See this amazing thread by George Mack that lists all of the mental models that Tobi uses.

Fab read of the week: Storytelling tips from Pixar 💡

Storytelling is an underrated skill. Human beings are drawn to stories like moths to a flame. Great storytelling can improve your persuasion, personality, leadership and overall success.

Pixar has given us countless gifts over the years! The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Toy Story etc. are amazing feats of beautiful storytelling. We can learn a lot from Pixar.

Courtesy Brian’s blog post

6 principles we can incorporate in our storytelling

  1. Have a clear structure to the story – for instance a beginning, climax and the end. This is trivial, but a lot of people don’t even complete their stories.
  2. Basic human experiences can be universal and if we can appeal to it, we have workings of a great story. For instance, if you have experienced irrational fears as a child, play on those in your story. Focus on why you experienced something, and that will help you elicit a similar response in your audience.
  3. There is always an underdog to root for…For instance, if you are telling your own story, portraying yourself as an underdog that comes out victorious from a difficult time is incredibly impactful. Needs to be done in good taste, though. I shall leave that to your imagination.
  4. Appeal to our deepest emotions. Ability to recognise emotions in yourself and explain why these emotions exist is key to an awesome story. For instance, fear, love, desire, etc. there are many emotions that can be elicited through narration, tonality, backdrop, pauses, and sometimes simply words.
  5. Have twists in the plot. Our brains love a random surprise. As a result, too predictable stories don’t win any brownie points.
  6. Keep it simple and focused on the topic you want to address, complex plots hardly work. For instance, I have never loved stories about 6 couples going through 6 different things in their lives. Inception was probably the only complex plot that I loved. That sort of plot is an exception and requires masterful craft, which most of us do not possess. Stick to the simple.

Read the original article here.


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The Minions called, they want their bananas back!

A long long time ago, on a distant planet, there were people who went to real offices. They had human co-workers, and quaint break-out areas. Some of them were so lucky, that they got to hear printer noises and chatter while they were working!! I was one of those people…

Ah… The soya cappuccino 😔

The banana principle

I loved the smell of coffee ☕ in the cafeteria and compulsively stood in a queue to get my Soya cappuccino. Heck, I even relished the fresh selection of fruits kept around the floor every blissful morning. One such morning, the unthinkable happened. I was a bit late, and all the bananas 🍌 were gone. Where were the bananas? Did the Minions actually call? No. Turns out this wasn’t an isolated incident. Bananas were always the first to go, and tangerines were the last!

Eventually, I learnt about the banana principle. The banana principle states that since bananas are easy to peel, they are the first ones to go from the basket. Similarly, tangerines take more effort so are usually the last ones to go…

Bananas are delicious & easy!
Photo by Giorgio Trovato

Friction & change

This is an important lesson in fostering, and sustaining change. Anything with friction is hard to foster and even harder to sustain. For instance, if you want people to ask more questions when you conduct meetings, remove as much friction as possible. Some people are afraid to speak. Provide an option to ask questions via text / web. Others may feel under pressure to frame questions on the fly. Provide plenty of time ahead of a meeting to submit questions. For those feeling afraid of consequences, provide anonymity. The banana principle works!

What about tangerines? Well, sometimes you need to deter behaviours. Screen time for instance, is a major concern for parents. In our house, we use the tangerine principle with our 4 year old. We keep our iPad out of sight but accessible in a drawer. Moreover, we purposely keep it discharged. As a result, if Anik wants to use the iPad, first he has to open the drawer (first friction) and then he has to charge it (second friction). Result? he hardly ever uses it. Other toys are frictionless and take precedence.

To conclude, create or remove friction to make it easier to foster and sustain change!

Lets hope to get back to work soon!

What do you prefer, bananas or tangerines?